EU Policy Forum on Development: a timid attempt to provide a policy dialogue space for CSOs and development stakeholders

The ITUC/TUDCN participated in the first interim meeting of the Policy Forum on Development (PFD), which took place in Brussels on 10-11 May. This meeting, organised by DEVCO, saw the participation of the European External Action Service (EEAS), EU Member States representatives, the European Parliament (EP), the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), and the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and Local Authorities platforms.

The PFDconstitutes the follow-up of the Structured dialogue (SD) for an Effective Partnership in Development process that started two years ago and concluded at the Budapest conference in May 2011. The recommendations of the SD were quite clear in pointing out the need for the EU to ‘support regular, structured and inclusive multi-stakeholders dialogues at all governance levels (i.e. national, regional and global)’ when it comes to development policies making. In this sense, the Forum is meant to give an answer to the recommendations, providing a policy space for development stakeholders. It it really so? Considering steering approach, level of participation and content of the PFD, it seems that there is still a long way to go.

In fact, we should not forget that we are still in the interim phase of the actual PFD, which is due to officially start by the end of the year (see background paper p.5). However, we can already make some remarks that are relevant for the future effectiveness of the forum.

Although the choice of the topics addressed was very pertinent to the current policy making process, as well as to the policy discussions on global development architecture (EU Multi-annual Financial Framework - MFF, Development Cooperation Instrument – DCI, EU programming phases and post-Busan framework), the sessions were pure information-sharing and not a real dialogue and interaction between the EU institutions and CSOs. For example, the programming guidelines, which, among other things, provide indications for EU delegations on how to involve CSOs in policy dialogue at partner country level, were only ‘presented’ and not put as a consultation item for a potential discussion and integration of CSO views.

Furthermore, the “light” participation of Member States representatives and the nearly absolute absence of the EP made the sessions on the MFF and on the DCI less critical, given the stage of the decision making process on the commission proposals. Moreover, the session on the post-Busan governance framework and monitoring mechanisms/indicators would have merited more time and focus in order to gather policy elements to feed in the EU future steps.
An entire session was dedicated to the analysis and comments on the first results of the EC consultation document on CSOs role in development (see theITUC response to the consultations). Almost 90% of the respondent organisations are CSOs, with a majority of NGOs. This was an important opportunity for the trade unions to reiterate the importance of the role of social partners in policy-making, referring to social dialogue and ILO mechanisms as examples for promoting participation and accountability both at international and national level.

The last part of the meeting was finally devoted to deliberate objectives, working modalities and membership of the PFD. Following the comments raised (see also the ITUC contribution), DEVCO proposes 3 main axes:

  • EU policies, including preparation of EU position to international fora/processes relating to development (such as post Busan, post-2015, G20 etc..) and EU programming process (MFF-DCI);
  • EC policy communications;
  • Follow up of SD recommendations on CSOs effectiveness.

Furthermore, specific areas of focus could also be taken on board along the themes of the Agenda for Change.

Regarding the membership of the PFD, specific criteria have been raised in line with the “Cebu model” on CSOs representation at global level such as representativeness and accountability. Therefore, participants have to be mandated by their constituencies at global/regional or sector level. Each constituency is entitled to nominate its own representatives. On this note, consensus was reached and each platform will need to send proposals accordingly.

All this seems a very ambitious and a well outlined in theory, but it could very well result in a ‘fiasco’ - like it happened already in the past with the SAG - if the right elements are not there. The full involvement of the EEAS, as well as of other relevant units of the Commission, is crucial for the future of the PFD. The Forum has to be ‘attractive’ also for the other institutions like the European Parliament, which should play an active role, and last but not least, the EU Member States. If this will not happen it will be very difficult to shift from unilateral information spreading to actual policy dialogues.

Also on the agenda setting and working methods a more participative model should be envisaged so as to make the PFD a real multistakeholder platform that is based on the ownership by all stakeholders and will not remain a unilateral, commission-driven and -owned vehicle.

The next meeting of the interim PFD will take place in October in Brussels. The ITUC/TUDCN will keep engaging to shape the contents and working modalities.

Article by Paola Simonetti, TUDCN